Swamp Freak (2017)

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I’ve reviewed nearly 200 movies on this site, and Swamp Freak might just be the stinkiest poop in the pot. In fact, I’m complimenting writer/director David DeCoteau by referring to this shambling mess as a movie, rather than what it actually is: a relentlessly tepid tapestry of Vancouver Island establishing shots that a character or monster sees fit to visit occassionally .

There isn’t a single frame with more than one character present. Swamp Freak appears to have been dutifully assembled from an abundance of cutting-room floor footage, with an emphasis on creating a somnolent atmosphere rather than advancing the flimsy plot.

Every chicken-scratching scene boils down to static primeval photography lingering over the leaves in a pond; lichen-stitched tree bark; a decaying dock. This numbing repetition continues until you’re hypnotized into watching the agonizingly slow narrative that reveals itself with all the grace of a stripper with hiccups.

Nutshell: A professor of cryptozoology disappears in the boonies while searching for the legendary “Reed Cove Swamp Freak,” an ambulatory pile of moss and rain gear that is summoned from H20 hibernation by the Freak’s brother Isaac (Michael Timmermans), who definitely got the good looks in the family.

Gradually, after hearing three offscreen lectures about the origin and motives of the drippy cryptoid, several students—none of whom are theater majors—appear one at a time, hot on the trail of their missing mentor, and presumably an assload of extra credit.

The Action: Student talks on cellphone. Student completes call and shuffles around the same track of wilderness for what feels like days. Student senses they’re being watched, because they are, by the Swamp Freak, who half-heartedly gives chase, but sadly wasn’t built for speed. Student runs away for several hours. The Swamp Freak appears unexpectedly and delivers a devastating (and bloodless) blow. This happens five times without the slightest variation.

Even at 75 minutes the tedium is stultifying and oppressive, like being stuck wearing a winter jacket in a hot room. As aimless students wander through a damp and dreary landscape, the viewer is doomed to flounder for meaning—as well as the remote.

 

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See No Evil 2

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SeeNoEvil2

In which righteously indestructible maniac Jacob Goodnight (wrestler Glen “Kane” Jacobs) rises from the grave morgue to massacre another troop of teens late twenty somethings who can’t keep it in their pants. As you may recall from the first See No Evil, Goodnight continually feels the shame of his lustful adolescent urges, and painful memories of the puritanical punishment dished out by his psychotic mother have become his default setting. Hail the avenging prude!

As directed by the Twisted Twins, Jen and Sylvia Soska, who brilliantly helmed American Mary, See No Evil 2 is a perfectly acceptable hack and stack with an exemplary cast. The incomparable Katherine Isabelle (American Mary, Ginger Snaps) is certainly one of the most compelling actresses in the horror genre, and she brings oodles of panache to the part of Tamara, a charmingly depraved vixen victim of the rampaging Goodnight. Dependable Final Girl Danielle Harris (The Hatchet trilogy) also acquits herself nicely as morgue assistant Amy, the secret object of affection of fellow cadaver cutter Seth (Kaj-Erik Eriksen). Not that being somewhat virtuous will save anybody here from a seven foot tall, one-eyed gorilla armed with all sorts of nasty looking sharp things.

If I had to gripe about anything, it would have to be a shortage of stylistically memorable mayhem. After all, the Soska Twins are responsible for the dazzling American Mary, one of the most original and provocative horror movies of the last few years. See No Evil 2 seems a bit perfunctory in comparison, but given the nature of indie cinema these days, filmmakers with artistic inclinations are often tasked with conventional fare, in order to earn a payday that will result in something more profound and personal. I believe that to be the case here.

The Colony (2013)

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When in doubt, a frozen hellscape will definitely add depth and dread to your horror movie—even if the main characters in The Colony spend entirely too much time hiking around on another egregious AIW (Anonymous Industrial Walkabout). Still, the production values here are decent, the story is reasonably compelling and the atmosphere is chillingly claustrophobic. The presence of a couple genre vets in Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton, doesn’t hurt either.

Nuclear winter has fallen and in a few lonely outposts, humanity attempts to restart society underground. The titular colony has suffered a drop in numbers lately, thanks to a nasty flu that’s been going around. This is usually followed by the afflicted citizen either getting shot by an increasingly paranoid Mason (Paxton) or being sent on “the walk,” a stroll through the aforementioned frozen hellscape which offers a grimly minuscule chance at survival. But hey! At least they have a choice!

When Briggs (Fishburne), the colony commander, loses radio contact with one of the few remaining outposts, he takes a small team out to investigate. And here come the cannibals, led by a fearsome bald giant (Dru Viergever). But how can three guys fight a ravenous mob? Unsuccessfully, as it turns out.

There’s nothing blazingly innovative going on in The Colony, but cowriter and director Jeff Renfroe keeps it moving with a minimum of stupid crap we don’t care about—despite a surfeit of aimless rambling. You will watch, you will care, and you will be effectively entertained.

 

The Dark Side of the Moon (1990)

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In space, no one can hear you yawn.

Sadly, this cheezoid mashup of Alien and The Thing features no Pink Floyd in the soundtrack. In fact, The Dark Side of the Moon has precious little going for it, although its depiction of a “futuristic” space ship from the Year 2022 is good for some snarky horse laughs. Really? Steam pipes? And the electronic consoles are constantly misfiring and shooting off sparks while the teensy monitors look like they would be more at home hosting a spirited game of Pong. Oh well, you get your perks where you can.

A small crew of mostly no-name talent (headlined by John Diehl, Cruiser from Stripes, and Joe Turkel, Tyrell from Blade Runner) finds itself adrift on the wrong side of the moon where it encounters a derelict space craft that has mysteriously appeared direct from the Bermuda Triangle (*eyes roll*). It’s lone occupant is a shape-shifting creature that turns out to be… THE DEVIL!

Yes, there are spoilers aplenty here, but trust me, you will not be watching The Dark Side of the Moon for its agile plot twists. It’s cheap, boring, ineptly written, and offers nothing whatsoever in the way of frights. Director D.J. Webster’s idea of cinematic finesse consists of extreme closeups of the cast, in case you were wondering how their pores are holding up in the vacuum of space. Listen carefully: Not every artifact from a bygone era is worth saving.

The Task (2011)

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Filmed in Bulgaria masquerading as upstate New York, this faux reality-show-set-in-a-haunted-prison feature is severely lacking in just about every department. From the generic no-name cast to a predictable fake-out finale, The Task is a starvation diet of style and tension. And with precious little blood and guts—and no nudity—to distract our attention, the overall cheapness and absence of fresh ideas dooms the production from the get-go.

An assortment of reality show hopefuls are kidnapped and taken to an abandoned prison with a sinister reputation. Formerly under the rule of a sadistic warden who tortured and starved his inmates, the rambling edifice is rumored to be haunted, and the unlucky contestants must spend the night, completing a variety of unsavory tasks, in order to win $20,000. Though the prison is wired with cameras, props, and spooky audio effects, the presence of a legit ghost throws a wrench into the works.

The Task is a total dud, no matter how you slice it. We’re never given a reason to care about any of the characters—and we don’t. If they were faced with an awesome battery of mind-bending horror and derangement, the blandness of the characters wouldn’t have made any difference. As it stands, the stakes are never enough to draw anyone into the low-voltage action. As my former editor would say, when presented with limp copy, it’s awfully “so-whatty.”

Stag Night (2008)

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When using public transportation it’s generally a good idea to pay attention to the stops. This is especially true of the New York subway system since the labyrinthine underground is apparently teeming with cannibals. Hmmm. Cannibals of New York—sounds strangely familiar.

A quartet of yuppie jerks gets 86ed from a strip club while celebrating Bro Mikey’s (Kip Pardue) bachelor party. On a whim they decide to catch a subway uptown for more partying, and meet up with a pair of strippers en route. Mikey’s asshole brother Tony (Breckin Meyer) fails to impress exotic dancer Brita (Vinessa Shaw) with his drunken machismo so she judiciously maces the whole bunch, forcing them all to evacuate the train—at an abandoned station. All too soon the foreplay’s over and they’re on the run from a bunch of CHUDS (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers, duh!) who look like off-duty extras from The Pirates of the Caribbean.

Stag Night successfully takes a moldy premise and breathes some life into it by not wasting our precious time with shit we don’t care about. The group is dropped into perilous circumstances with very little fanfare, and the ensuing action is breathless and brutal, with buckets of believable blood and guts (including a couple tasty decapitations). The depiction of the subterranean squatter camps is rendered in vivid detail, revealing a savage society that has siphoned electricity and water from our own, while developing its own harsh code of survival. Writer Peter A. Dowling relies a bit too much on the chaotic shaky cam, but he’s obviously right at home with this sort of fast-paced murderous mayhem. Worthy and watchable.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

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Happened to catch this on SyFy today and felt compelled to wrangle a few words. Now, there have been some wretched, wretched entries in the Friday the 13th series—but this is the worst. Not only does Jason NOT take Manhattan, his reputation as a first-tier remorseless killing machine takes a serious knee to the groin.

Yet another crop of one-dimensional teens takes a slow boat from Crystal Lake to the Big Apple, and recently revived Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) decides to hitch a ride. (Probably wants to audition for Phantom.) See, it’s a senior class trip for good ol’ Crystal Lake High (?), and Sean (Scott Reeves), the son of the ship’s captain, is in love with Rennie (Jensen Daggett), who as a kid was nearly drowned by the child version of Jason (?) because her asshole Uncle Charles (Peter Mark Richman) dumped her in the middle of Crystal Lake to force her to learn to swim shortly after her parents were killed in a car crash— *has aneurism* Cue funeral march.

Just a few notes for writer-director Rob Hedden: Dude, I’ve read Shakespearian comedies with fewer subplots. All we really want is for Jason to strap on his hockey face and amass a respectable body count, preferably utilizing a battery of imaginative and colorful devices. Fail.

And how come when Jason (finally!) gets to Manhattan, he ignores the teeming masses of street gravy in order to pursue a handful of pipsqueaks from his hometown? Hell, they get mugged within 5 minutes of arriving! Couldn’t Jason go after the Mets or something? Why doesn’t he just merrily filet the entire city? The regulations that govern Jason’s behavior are awfully vague. What’s his deal anyway? I mean, I like the guy, but he needs a reboot. What’s Quentin working on at the moment?

And aside from a shot of Times Square and a few Statue of Liberty cameos, the New York location doesn’t figure into the story at all. Hell, they could have been going to Halifax. Consider this the nadir of Jason Voorhees.

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